Bagmaking operation refuses to stand still

As the plastic bag operation at Shields Bag & Printing Co. continues to grow and evolve, 32 Battenfeld Gloucester production lines keep pace.

In 1954 Gene Shields had a going commercial printing business in Yakima, WA, and an entrepreneur's insight. As a result of that insight, Shields Bag & Printing Co. today is one of the leading suppliers of plastic bags in the US and a very dominant player in the West.

The company has grown consistently and will soon have 32 Battenfeld Gloucester production lines with automated process control extruding blown film. Many have in-line printing, and a number are stand-alone bag machines converting rolled film.

How that can happen, as Shields likes to joke, "out in the boonies" makes a story as interesting as the company's ability to find the applications and markets that fuel its growth.

Yakima has long been the center of one of the largest US fruit-growing and -packing regions. Gene Shields' father and grandfather were in that business, so Shields knew where to look for opportunities. "Fruit packers use a lot of bags," he notes, "and plastic offers many advantages."

Besides, a "sharp" bag-machine salesman came along at the right time, and the Shields Co. was in the bag business that same day. At first 50-lb. bags of resin went down an elevator to where the extruders were in the basement, and the film came up a stairwell. When the operation moved into a new building in the early 60s, Shields wanted to add some new equipment and trade out some of the older machines for newer, faster technology. He saw a news article on Gloucester's bag machines and began a relationship that continues today, as do the Gloucester 418 bag machines.

Continuing to Evolve

Shields Bag is currently in another stage of evolution. Late last year Gene Shields, as CEO, sold his shares of the company to his son Bill, the current president. Bill is a plastics industry veteran, having started Rainier Plastics, also in Yakima, in 1966 to reclaim process scrap. Rainier now processes about 12 million lb. of reclaim annually, collected from and resold throughout the western US and Canada.

Bill is dedicated to the tradition of personal service to clients that he inherited from his father and grandfather, and he is actively passing it on to his son Pat and daughter Lisa, who have been working in the business for several years.

Bill is also taking an aggressive approach to researching and adopting new technologies to maintain the company's position with its customers as a preferred supplier. Six representatives from Shields will be at the K'95 Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, in October, gathering information on the newest industry trends.

Film production at Shields, according to Mark Hanses, VP of manufacturing, has grown in complexity as well as volume. Most of the newer Gloucester blown film lines, including one scheduled to go on-line in September, are designed to make the multilayer films needed for new applications in a variety of markets.

Hanses explains that customers are writing tougher performance specs, often combining various properties that just five years ago could not be obtained in the same film. With all that, he notes, the quality and throughput rates have to remain high, and the cost must stay low. Shields has kept up with these tougher demands by installing production technology upgrades that increase both quality and volume.

Technology Helps Meet Customer Needs

Hanses specifically emphasizes several technologies that are found on the Battenfeld Gloucester lines, including the Extrol Process Controller, dies (including IBC, or internal bubble cooling) and the Traversanip oscillating hauloff. The Extrol, he notes, does what the company needs in terms of being generally user-friendly to the operators, but more importantly, its precision has helped them meet customer requests for reducing gauge while maintaining properties.

The standard statistical process control (SPC) functions included in the Extrol's software give Shields a double edge: First, there are accurate records in text and graphics for in-house production monitoring and quality assurance; second, Shields can produce reports that more than satisfy customers with critical requirement specifications.

While upgrading its technology, Shields Bag has stayed with Gloucester's dies. Hanses explains that his current three-layer dies are of the IBC type and consistently process about 25 lb. of throughput/in. of die circumference. Others that he checked are closer to 22 lb./in, and 3 lb. quickly multiplies into a big number in a round-the-clock operation.

The oscillating hauloff, Gloucester's Traversanip, has enabled Shields to stay with stationary dies. Rotating dies, notes Hanses, need more maintenance than stationary dies due to the more complicated construction and electrical connections and are simply not as efficient. Also, the Traversanip is able to completely randomize gauge banding.

Gloucester supplies some lines with printing capabilities, but most of the printing done at Shields is on flexo presses from Wolverine. Inks are supplied by Zeneca and Sun Chemical. Corona treaters are from Enercon and Pillar.

Most of the bags produced at Shields are low-density polyethylene, but the lines also run high-density PE, barrier and slip materials and reclaim content. Resin suppliers include Chevron, Exxon, Quantum, Mobil, Fina and Dow.

A Valued Supplier

Speaking separately, Hanses and both Gene and Bill Shields use virtually the same words to describe the reasons for their 30-year-plus relationship with Battenfeld Gloucester. Shields places a high value on its own consistency and expects the same from a supplier, and that goes for both people and technology. "They have always been current and are often in the lead," says Hanses of Battenfeld Gloucester.

Adds Bill Shields, "We've always been able to call and receive the right attention, and that hasn't changed as they became bigger, as it often does with other companies."

Shields Bag now employs 450 people and occupies about 300,000 sq. ft. The company may be "out in the boonies," but it is having an ever-widening impact. Business is still strong in the western US, and Shields' products are now found in Hawaii and Alaska, western Canada and, for a number of special products, the rest of the US.

Ever the entrepreneurs, neither Bill nor Gene Shields will be very specific about the company's product and market mix. "The level of competition in this business has never been higher," they agree.

In further acknowledgement of that fact, note the company name: Shields Bag & Printing continues to print newspaper inserts and advertising materials for publishers and other businesses throughout the region, and that is not going to change.

The reason for that, says Gene Shields with a laugh, is very simple: "When you're out in the boonies, you have to do more than one thing to keep growing."

Corona Treating For Coating & Laminating Film

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